I graduated from college two years ago (woah!) and the separation between my expectations and reality could not have been more different. I expected to work in a counseling office as a secretary/office assistant, until maybe going to grad school. Instead, I worked there for 2 months and applied to the AYC Program; completely spur of the moment! And I have loved living in China ever since.
I regularly check out & Son’s website; it’s the perfect place to get inspired to do amazing things, from creating community to going motorcycling across America. The youngest son, Luke, graduated from college this year (congrats Luke!). He recorded a podcast with two older brothers called “Post-Graduation: The Body Slam”. Humorous and genuine, their advice resonated with my own ungraceful splash into the work force.
While I may not be able to spare you all aches, here’s what I wish professors, young professionals, and friends told me about the real job market and life after college:
1. What meaningful work I thought I was going to do was brought under the pressure of life
The meaningful work I thought I would do in a counseling office came to a screeching halt with the reality of rent, utilities, and gas in my car. The reality is, you need money to live; I like having food to eat! Moving to a country with a low cost of living had a real appeal to me.
Teaching was incredibly rewarding in unexpected ways. Outside of oral English instruction, I formed relationships with my students and other teachers at the school. Over time, I was able to listen while students opened up about broken relationships with their parents, dating culture in China, and academic pressure. With colleagues, I heard about the pressure to get married and job stress. I, in turn, open up about homesickness and the balance between adapting to Chinese culture and remaining true to myself. These deeply personal conversations of mutual encouragement and human connection were so life-giving, and fueled me through the tough days!
2. Just because you don’t get a job in your field of study doesn’t make you a failure
Lots of friends studying liberal arts transitioned to entrepreneurial jobs. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Marketing departments need English majors to tell captivating stories. Businesses need different minds in brain dump sessions, like psychology and anthropologist students, to generate as many ideas as possible. Just because you get a job outside your field of study doesn’t mean you come to work empty-handed. The ability to acquire new skills while bringing what you have to the table, is what job experience is all about.
I was an International Studies/Public Relations double major. I never predicted that I would teach English as a second language to Chinese high schoolers. But the skills I had in presentation, communication, and global understanding made me a confident teacher. The rest, I learned along the way!
3. Take advantage of your college years
Four years is a short amount of time. Deadlines come quick, but life post-grad is a lot slower. Get a job on-campus, join swing ‘n ballroom club, start an intramural Frisbee team… and for crying out loud, update your LinkedIn and get some skills endorsements! These things are only harder and/or more expensive once you graduate. Learning to settling into a new rhythm of life can be a hard transition, but instead of riding highs, you can learn to move at a deeper, more meaningful pace.
Looking back, I don’t remember how exhausted I was in college. I vaguely remember averaging 4 hours of sleep per night, but that’s not what comes first to mind. I remember the 2 AM Waffle House run with friends, singing “Born to Run” at the top of my lungs at a forensics competition, and going mountain biking. I don’t remember how tired I was, I remember how much fun I had. Those experiences are what prepared me for what I do now. It’s amazing how driving the campus bus or writing papers under a deadline prepared me for China and my current job. Who knows what college experiences will equip you later in life; just go out and do things!
4. Do something scary
Be comfortable being alone. Start a company from your parent’s garage. Get an Instagram business and do something awesome, like Sunny Co’s red bathing suit explosion. Or… Move to China!
Had I ever studied Chinese? Nope. Did I have a year lease and work contract I left early? Sadly, yes. Did my passport application and visa happen? Miraculously, yes. Did I get weirdly emotional watching Mulan on the airplane to China? Definitely. Was it terrifying? Absolutely. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
5. When you’re removed from community, get good at creating community
College is maybe the last place you’ll be surrounded by people that are so similar to you in age, education level, and core values. You’ll need to get good at interacting with people who are very different than you. Does the stuff you care about still have value, when those around you care about different things? Can you find ways to relate to and get along with people who are vastly different than you?
A HUGE benefit of doing China with AYC is the built-in network you get right off the bat. Just having someone who “gets it”, who lives nearby, and maybe a few people to try a new restaurant or celebrate holidays with can make a world of difference in your cultural adjustment process and overall happiness abroad.
6. Identify your purpose; if you can’t do that, identify what you want
If your purpose ends when college did, it’s time to find a new purpose. This transition to new purpose can be flavored with some mourning. Even a happy thing like graduating from college marks the end of an era, and you can rightfully mourn that. So mourn, and then get on with it. What you transition to can be determined by some basic questions: What are you naturally skilled in? What makes you happy? In what areas do you want to improve?
All jobs are a learning opportunity. I learned from teaching abroad that I didn’t want to be a teacher (gasp!). I was far from miserable, but teaching just didn’t make my heart sing. For other friends, they found their life calling through AYC. Helping my friends adjust to life abroad, organizing one-on-one coffee dates, and planning birthday parties revealed… this is what gives me joy! Encouraging and helping others is what I was made to do. Now, I still work for Ameson in a Program Coordinator/Human Resources capacity. It maximizes my gifts and passions, and I’m exercising new marketing and blogging muscles too.
7. Make a habit of feeding your well-being
Cycling, reading the news, painting… maybe these things don’t develop you professionally, but they add to your wellness. These aren't new trends you try, but activities that you know you enjoy, and can sustain you through rough seasons. Making a habit of fueling yourself helps you love others better and be a more productive worker. What brings you life doesn’t have to bring you an income. Your dreams and jobs can align, but they don’t have to.
Living in a new country meant no accountability… and learning how to be self-disciplined was one of my first lessons! At the end of the work day, it took (and still takes!) an intentional effort to do something for myself, instead of starting a Netflix marathon. Feed your soul with what you love. Live in the place where you live! And amazingly, I found I was able to use something I loved in the classroom; a few times a year, I brought my guitar in and did a music unit to introduce new vocabulary or sing Christmas carols. I also found that hiding behind my camera helped make all the “new-ness” of China a little less overwhelming, and learned… I really like photography (here's two photos of mine)!
8. You don’t stop learning once you graduate
Living on a budget. Fixing a sink. Developing life skills is an ever-happening process. As my dad says, “we are not fully-formed humans”. And likely, we never will be!
Adjusting to life in China, and life abroad anywhere for that matter, is a life skill. Living in a country that’s about as different from America as you can get is full of surprises. Living abroad is mind-opening, patience-developing, and amazing. Along the way, I’ve learned about my own biases, some basic conversational Chinese, and discovered a love for KTV and photography. I have become a better person for it.
9. Be balanced
Exercise, eat well, get enough sleep. These basic things in life should be mastered early on; and called a success. When you’re feeling down about life, the root cause is often something as simple as: “I haven’t eaten enough protein today”, or “I should have gotten 8 hours of sleep instead of watching Friends reruns until 3 AM”. If you’re feeling uneasy: stop. Take a “pulse check”, and ask if you’ve done those three things: exercised, eaten well, or gotten enough sleep.
When you’re going through cultural adjustment, it’s easy to lose perspective. Carefully monitoring and stopping to take a “pulse check” can help ease with the cultural adjustment process. Maybe you’re not a bad English teacher or unsettled, maybe you were just busy and forgot to eat lunch. Keeping a careful eye on being healthy in body and spirit will keep you well in other aspects of life, too.
Our program, put simply, is meaningful. EAs gain self-confidence and awareness, become more open-minded to new perspectives, are global citizens, learn to navigate cultural differences, make connections personally and professionally... the list goes on. Being a student of the world is an amazing outlook to have; realistic expectations about life after college can be brought to life!
Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions: What actions have meaning? Think about the small things you’re doing, and what are they adding up to? What am I learning about right now? Should I do something crazy like live and teach in China?
If you’re ready to take the plunge and have the experience of a lifetime, Apply Now.